After lunch, a spa technician slathers a natural mud mask onto my face, and then it's time for an hour–long Shiatsu massage. The masseur, Adrian, is fantastic—the only downside is that it's raining, so we're not able to use the picturesque outdoor massage pavilion. Still, the spa's indoor spaces are immaculate, with huge glass panes showing the surrounding forest. I can't think of a better way to spend a gloomy day.
I spend my last night in Patagonia at an exclusive three-room lodge, El Casco Viejo, on the Chapelco golf course. The romantic wooden farmhouse is a replica of the original house on the Taylor estancia, and the business is still family–run. Today, the antique furniture, afternoon tea, and decorative details like a turn–of–the–century record player and old black and white photos of the original ranchers lend an old–fashioned air to the small hotel. Like the rest of my lodgings, the emphasis here in on charm and quality over extravagance.
Before catching my flight back to Buenos Aires, I spend a few hours in the pretty lakeside town of San Martin de los Andes, where I splurge on gourmet local products: chocolate, rosehip tea, smoked Gouda and wild boar, dulce de leche liqueur.
The Taste and Art of Buenos Aires
I round out my 12-day trip with a few days back in Buenos Aires. I'm staying at the brand new Nuss Buenos Aires Soho, a contemporary 22-room boutique that made Conde Nast Traveler's Hot List 2009. One look around at the plasma TVs, the cool rooftop terrace with a swimming pool, and the sleek minimalist design, and I know I'm back in the city. Of course, there's a price to be paid for the tech–friendly amenities—there's no open bar here, no socializing around the fireplace.
The next days in the city are action-packed. During our original conversations, Maita learned that I'm an amateur student of art and wine, and she's planned my evening accordingly. I'm met at Nuss by Cecilia Caballero, art collector, gallery director, and co-creator of Duchale, an exquisite line of shawls and throws crafted from exotic fabrics. We're off to Coleccion Fortabat, the striking new museum in Puerto Madero, for a casual tour of the art collection of Amalia Fortabat—including, notably, a Turner and a Warhol. Afterwards, Cecilia takes me to see her impressive personal art collection in her Palermo Chico townhouse. An energetic sommelier, a representative of a local company called U Taste, meets us there for a wine tasting and lesson. We sample a few high-end Malbecs and I try to conjure up appropriate adjectives to describe the rich flavors in my mouth. The fact that the sommelier is casual, funny, and youthful takes the pressure off.
On the last day of the trip, I lunch on homemade Italian pasta at Sottovoce before taking a private tour of the Recoleta Cemetery with a historian who's written a book about artistic symbolism in the stately necropolis. In the evening, I head to the Elsa Maria & Mayoral Tango Academy for a private tango lesson. After working up a sweat, I take a break with Elsa Maria over a glass of champagne. She and her husband have danced on Broadway, and she's hosted everyone from Bill Clinton to Robert Duvall in her tango salon.
The evening ends with a front-row table at Rojo Tango at the Faena Hotel & Universe. Guests dine on three courses—and a decadent dark chocolate dessert—before the sultry cabaret-style tango performance begins. Towards the end, when the live orchestra starts playing the tango anthem "Adios Nonino," I feel a tear rolling down my cheek. Maybe I've been deeply touched by all of the natural and artistic beauty I've experienced in Argentina, or maybe I'm just exhausted. But at least for one night, I've fallen under the nation's melancholy spell, and I'm actually behaving like a local, getting all choked up during a slow tango. A bit ridiculous, yes, but it's a fitting end to the trip.